Hi, I regularly enjoy your bits of local history. I recently recalled a tragic accident that happened on McIlquham’s bridge on the Ferguson Falls road by where Mal’s Camping is. A boy fishing on the bridge was struck and killed by a truck. I think it was likely the summer of 1962. I think his name was David Yaner(spelling might be wrong). Anyway I was thinking that remembering what happened to him(accurately) might be appropriate.
Approximately one mile downsteam from Bridge #1 is McIlquham’s Bridge #2. There was a ferry in the early days or some other method of crossing as the settlers and pioneers would have to cross the river at this point when travelling between New Lanark and Carleton Place.
I am a big fan of the Discovery Channel’s show Naked and Afraid. If you have not watched it here is the skinny on it: Each week, a new pair of total strangers are faced with the ultimate survival challenge: survive for 21 days together with no clothes or supplies in some of the most dangerous environments in the world. In addition to the landscape itself working against the duo, the local wildlife looks to prey on them as well.
Sometimes when Steve and I drive down Lanark County roads I tell him the Discovery Channel should film a segment in our swampy wooded county. He keeps saying it just isn’t dangerous enough. I beg to differ, and as I researched a journey taken by John McDonald to Lanark in 1821 after debarking the David of London I thought it was perfect.
John McDonald’s letter to back home modified/translated into modern language by the author.
“The next morning we left Perth which is 14 miles from New Lanark and came to a large stream called the *Little Mississippi over which we had to ferry. Sometimes there was sickness among the new settlers and some would camp out on the banks of this very spot as they said the air was clearer. It wasn’t unusual for a family of four to be sick at the same time. You have to remember for months on their trip over the pond they never saw the sunlight and breathed in nasty air and upon arrival fevers and disease were the result.
So, some preferred to stop at McIlquham’s Bridge #2 (Mal’s Camping) whether it were for heath reasons or just a stop so they could leave their families in a location while the heads of household endured the arduous chore of viewing their lots. If they didn’t have a tent they would drive posts in the ground and make do with what they could find for shelter. Some were able to cover the top with blankets or whatever they could find to make a roof. This would not stop the snakes, lizards and squirrels from running about in their tents as well as being deprived of sleep with the intrusion of oxen and cows who had strayed from their owners. Lost pigs would steal what little food they had and the settlers had to pursue them in order to recover it. I imagine after these swine were caught they made for a tasty dinner.
Mosquitoes pierced through the skin and the settlers were so covered in bites they looked like they had small pox. The land was swampy and rocky and in some swamps the trees would fall across each other and stepping over them caused some sink deep in the mud.
Instead of coming to paradise they were now destitute because 5 or 6 months of the year consisted of frost and snow in their new home of Canada. It was said that no sound of music came from the birds only a death-like stillness reigned everywhere. Herbs and shrubs in the woods became a substitute for tea, but it was noted once again that every kind of liquor was cheap and available as well as an abundance of Indian Corn”.
Heck with alcohol and corn in plenty surely the birds were singing somewhere!
*Approximately one mile downsteam from Bridge #1 is McIlquham’s Bridge #2. There was a ferry in the early days or some other method of crossing as the settlers and pioneers would have to cross the river at this point when travelling between New Lanark and Carleton Place.
In 1918 when the new bridge opened ( see below) this birdge was in its 100th year
McIlquham’s bridge number 1 as they called it was on Highway 511 between Perth and Lanark. In the beginning the settlers didn’t have any other way to cross the old Mississippi River except to take Cameron’s Ferry— which was basically a canoe to get to Perth. As you know most of the roads were quite impassable in those days and a quick drive down the 511 will give you an idea.
Well that old bridge hung on as long as it could, but in 1987 something had to be done about it. Wooden piers filled with stone had to be replaced with cement and steel railings were needed– basically it was the works.
When Sandy Caldwell was king in the lumbering days- the logs used to pile up at this bridge blocking the river for days. Lumbermen worked for hours and days with their pike poles trying to free those logs- and some even lost their lives.
It was during these hard times that Lanark County’s famous song “The Ballad of Jimmy Whalen” supposedly written by John Smith of Lanark and was allegedly first put together by a Ferguson’s Falls bard.
The facts behind the song are elusive, but Jimmy Whelan or Whalen – actually was James Phalen (so spelled; pronounced Whalen) – was killed on Ontario’s Mississippi River. The date given was 1878, but James Phalen’s grandniece, Mary C. Phelan of Ottawa, thinks it was 1876, and she names Timothy Doyle as the ballad’s composer.
Whatever who wrote the song- it still lives and reminds us of when life was rough and tough on the Mississippi River.
Perth Courier, July 23, 1897
On Sunday afternoon, July 25, Rev. James Cross conducted a baptismal service at McIlquham’s bridge on the Carleton road when Mrs. Jas Dodds and Miss L. Borrowman were baptized. The news that an immersion was to take place drew quite a large crowd, a number walking down from here to witness the ceremony. From the Lanark Era
1. Slowly as I strayed by the banks of the river, A-viewing those roses as evening drew nigh; As onward I rambled I espied a fair damsel, She was weeping and wailing with many a sigh.
2. She was weeping for one that was now lying lonely, Weeping for one that no mortal can save; For the dark rolling waters lies slowly around him, As onward they speed over young Jimmy’s grave.
[At this point, Mrs. Coughlin asked if that was good enough to give Sandy the tune. She claimed she couldn’t sing.]
3. Slowly there rose from the depths of the desert A vision of beauty more brighter than the sun, With roses of crimson around him a-waving, To speak to this fair one he just had begun.
4. “Why do you call me from red-lums [realms] of glory, Back to this wide world I no longer can stay? To embrace you once more in my strong loving arms, To see you once more I have come from my grave.”
5. “Darling,” she said, “won’t you bury me with you? Do not desert me to weep and to mourn, But take me, oh, take me along with you Jimmy, To sleep with you down in your cold silent tomb.”
6. “Darling,” he said, “you are asking a favor That no mortal person can grant unto thee, For deep is the desert that parts us asunder – Wide is the gulf lies between you and me.
7. “But as you do wander by the banks of this river, I will ever be near thee to keep and to guide; My spirit will guide you and keep from all danger. I’ll guide you along from my cold silent grave.”
8. She threw herself down and she wept bitterly; In the deepest of anguish those words she did say: “Oh, you are my darling, my lost Jimmy Whalen; I will sigh ’til I die by the side of your grave.”